BC’s independent forestry watchdog has cited Meadow Creek Cedar for unsound forest practices and identified gaps in government policy.
A Forest Practices Board report released today found the company failed to meet its obligations between July 2009 and July 2011.
“We found that some of Meadow Creek’s road, harvesting and silviculture activities did not comply with legislation, and some silviculture, protection and road construction practices were unsound,” says board chair Al Gorley.
“Meadow Creek did not implement recommendations made by professional foresters and engineers and this led to unacceptable environmental risks.”
He called it an “isolated case” and said the practices “are not typical of those we usually see in our audits and investigations.”
While the report found the compliance and enforcement division’s monitoring of the company was appropriate, it was not effective in improving Meadow Creek Cedar’s performance.
“In cases where there is a continuous and prolonged contravention of a licensee’s obligations and continuing evidence of unsound forest practices, government needs to be able to act much sooner,” Gorley said.
“Failure to do so undermines public confidence in the Forest and Range Practices Act , and the ability of government, tenure holders and the professionals that work for them, to manage the forest resource competently.”
The report makes four recommendations to government, and asks for a response by December 31.
The investigation was launched last summer following a complaint from a former company hauler.
HEALY CREEK AT RISK
During the review period, the company did harvesting work on 36 cutblocks, including four at high risk.
While in general the company adequately managed streamside areas, in one instance skidding occurred across two creeks, changing a channel flow and disturbing the streambed, in violation of two forest regulations.
Of the 218 km of road investigated, several had plugged culverts, small failures, tension cracks, and plugged ditches.
“Although such deficiencies were minor, Meadow Creek had not recently inspected many of these roads and was unaware of the potential problems,” the report says.
Road maintenance was of particular concern in Healy Creek, which flows into the Lardeau River and is habitat for Gerrard rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.
In 2008, the government removed most of the creek’s drainage from the forest landbase and placed it in a no-harvest area to conserve mountain caribou habitat.
Meadow Creek’s permit within the area required it to maintain 25 km of roads and meet silviculture obligations on 300 hectares of previously harvested cutblocks.
The investigation found several natural landslides crossed the Healy road, some reaching the creek. Sediment entering the creek could harm downstream spawning habitat.
The company asked the province to release it from its road maintenance and silviculture obligations within the area, arguing government should accept responsibility.
The ministry said it wouldn’t until Meadow Creek deactivated its road, including removing all bridges and culverts. The company claimed it couldn’t afford to.
“However, while the parties debate payment for road deactivation, the risk of potentially high environmental consequences increases,” the report says.
The report recommends government assess the risk and maintain or deactivate the road.
SHODDY SILVICULTURE PRACTICES
The report says the company’s poor reforestation and brush control practices increased the risk of not being able to re-grow stands to acceptable levels by prescribed deadlines.
“The investigation found Meadow Creek Cedar’s seedling purchase strategy and seed handling techniques resulted in high mortality on several blocks,” it reads.
The company often bought other licensees’ surplus seedlings on the open market, which lowered the cost but resulted in late planting and poor stock handling. Usually, there was no follow up to determine if the seedlings survived.
Meadow Creek Cedar also failed to do any brushing for five years, even though many of its harvesting areas were subject to dense shrub growth. Although there is no requirement for a licensee to monitor its stands, the board noted brushing is essential to regenerating a forest within a reasonable time.
“The long-term sustainability of the forest resource is at risk if a plantation fails or silviculture treatments are not applied.”
The company was also cited for poor administrative controls and inconsistent record keeping. It had no formal road or bridge maintenance program or tracking system.
It also ignored three letters from its own registered professional forester expressing concerns about the soundness of its practices, particularly around silviculture and road construction.
“There was no indication that Meadow Creek Cedar addressed any of those concerns.”
Overall, there were 67 instances of non-compliance or minor reporting errors in the company’s silviculture program, 35 related to standards for seed use (14 minor, 21 major). The other 32 were mostly minor reporting errors, but there were eight major non-compliances.
“Individually the failures and errors were not significant, but cumulatively they are a major concern,” the report says.
It asks government to explore options, including intervention, to make sure the outstanding silviculture obligations are met and timelines achieved.
THE COMPLIANCE SIDE
From 2006, the number of inspections of Meadow Creek Cedar’s operations by ministry compliance and enforcement staff steadily increased.
Between 2005 and 2010, their inspections accounted for 33 per cent of all inspections in the Kootenay Lake forest district, even though their license accounted for only 23 per cent of the district’s annual allowable cut.
A total of 306 inspections were conducted over that period (peaking in 2009 with 78), the most of any licensee and also the highest number per 10,000 cubic meters of annual allowable cut.
Since April 2006, the company has been issued 46 compliance notices and five cases have gone before the district manager for determination. The latter included a variety of silviculture and road-building infractions, some of which ultimately led to the company’s license suspension in February of this year.
Another 11 investigations are ongoing.
The report noted that current legislation “impedes effectiveness of compliance and enforcement’s risk rating process.” Under the act, government is not involved in planning or approving operational plans, and has limited knowledge of proposed forestry activities and their associated risk.
Government is aware of the problem, according to a 2008 internal memo.
The report says compliance and enforcement staff appropriately rated risk in all forestry activities, even though government policy limited the information available to them.
“Compliance and enforcement of Meadow Creek Cedar’s operations was appropriate and the board acknowledges government’s decision to suspend the forest license,” the report says. However, it didn’t stop the company from further legislative breaches.
Several aspects of Meadow Creek’s roads, harvesting, and silviculture activities didn’t live up to the rules, and there were also instances where operations complied with legislation but were still unsound, including rehabilitating excavated trails and engineering roads.
Site plans called for trail rehabilitation on 11 cutblocks, but the company did not do so on any. Several others were supposed to be cable harvested, but were conventionally logged using excavated trails on steep slopes, which were not rehabilitated either.
A professional’s recommendations for two roads weren’t followed, and both started to fail, including one above a fish-bearing stream.
“There are numerous road failures, with some sediment reaching the creek. Potential for further environmental impacts on the creek is high,” the report said.
Another road was planned on potentially unstable terrain. It was later moved downslope, but was still potentially unstable. Portions have since failed to the point where the rest of the road and a cutblock are inaccessible.
“It is notable Meadow Creek Cedar did not implement many of the recommendations contained in professional reports,” the board stated, singling out the company’s poor performance in living up to reforestation commitments.
It added that because compliance and enforcement does not deal with recommendations in plans and reports prepared by professionals, it did not address unsound practices that posed a high risk to the environment when Meadow Creek Cedar didn’t follow through on the advice.
While the Forest and Range Protection Act assumes a tenure holder will use the advice of professionals to manage public land, the success of this reliance depends on the licensees’ willingness to accept that advice, the report noted.
“In this case, the licensee frequently did not follow plans or reports prepared by professionals.”
The report recommends that Meadow Creek Cedar — or the government, if the license remains suspended — hire someone to review roads where construction didn’t follow engineering designs, and if necessary, fix them.
It also suggests government examine its policies to ensure to can act quickly when there as an “imminent high risk” to the environment, regardless of whether damage has occurred.
FEW BRIGHT SPOTS
The report did find the company’s forest stewardship plan was consistent with legislated requirements and all cutblocks had accompanying site plans.
There were no significant concerns with bridge maintenance, although Meadow Creek Cedar has not completed any formal inspections since 2004, and has no tracking system in place.
It complied with wildfire legislation, except that one harvesting operation didn’t have an adequate fire-supression system.